There must be something in the water, or perhaps it is the change of balls, but the Dubai Duty Free Championships is producing a spew of long matches, including upsets of Beatriz Haddad Maia and Veronika Kudermetova, dunked by Sorana Cirstea and Anhelina Kalinina respectively, both in 3 very tight sets, although Elena Rybakina, Jelena Ostapenko and Victoria Azarenka all made it safely into round 2 on Monday with straight set wins.
I see that coming up all the time, those comments. Oh, the age. You know, mind your business in a way. Like you really should mind your business. When it's ready, everybody's going to announce it one way or the other, and there's going to be a parade for some, maybe some not. Maybe some just say ‘bye’ and you never see them again. Whatever choice it is, just leave it up to people. That's my opinion. Victoria Azarenka
World No 1 Iga Swiatek is pleased with the change of balls being used in Dubai, where they are playing with the Australian Open Dunlop ball instead of the US Open Wilson that previously resulted in a sudden switch for the players.
“I’m pretty happy that this year, finally, we have the same balls, Australian Open Dunlop, because every year we had to adjust, and change the ball every week, which was pretty stupid, for me,” said the top seed, who starts her title defence campaign on Tuesday. “Right now, it makes sense.”
Asked to compare the conditions to last year, Swiatek admitted that she is unsure as she had not played on the courts yet.
“Usually it’s much drier,” she said. “I remember last year the courts were very fast. Truth to be told, I didn’t play any practice yet, so I don’t know.
“I think, looking at weather conditions, the weather is more similar to Doha this year. We’ll see. I don’t know about the courts.”
Swiatek opens against young Canadian Leylah Fernandez.
Less than 24 hours after Liudmila Samsonova won the longest tour-level match of 2023, Cirstea surpassed it with a 4-6 7-6(7) 7-5 win over Brazil’s Haddad Maia, the No 11 seed, saving 2 match points in the 2nd-set tiebreak in a 1st-round match that lasted 3 hours and 29 minutes.
32-year old Cirstea held her nerve with her back to the wall, coming from 1-4 down in the decider to deny Haddad Maia, racking up 42 winners to the Brazilian’s 28 in the process.
While Haddad Maia was more consistent from the baseline and on serve, and, in the first set, came up with some spectacular points in the forecourt to maintain her advantage, she paid the price for overly-safe rallying as she waited for Cirstea to make errors at key moments.
Deep in the 3rd set, a handful of ill-judged approaches also enabled the 70th-ranked Cirstea to find winning passing shots.
“I fought really hard today. I really think I gave it all,” Cirstea said afterwards. “I have nothing left. Sometimes you just have to stay in there.
“Bia played amazing. You know, tennis is not fair sometimes. You play for three hours and a half, and it’s a difference of a point. But this is tennis, and I’m happy I came on the winning side today. I’m very, very proud of the way I fought.
“I wasn’t planning to break the record! But Bia’s been in great form, and I knew, coming in, she’s a great fighter.
“I think this is what tennis is about, where all the work pays off. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if it’s a first round or a final — the joy is the same.”
The Romania wasn’t the only player going long to take out a seed in Dubai, as Kalinina needed 3 hours and 3 minutes to beat No 10 Kudermetova from Russia, 6-3 5-7 7-5, recovering in the 3rd set after losing a 5-2 lead in the second.
The result was Kalinina’s second Top 20 win of the season, and it sets her up to face fellow Ukrainian, qualifier Dayana Yastremska, who had impressed on Sunday with a clean performance to defeat Alizé Cornet, 6-2 6-3.
In a 1st-round match-up of former Grand Slam champions, 9th-seeded Rybakina from Kazakhstan beat Bianca Andreescu, 6-3 6-4, the reigning Wimbledon champion finishing with a 6-2 edge in aces and winning 11 of 14 points on the Canadian’s second serve.
Rybakina took the first set in 38 minutes, and while Andreescu jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the second, the Canadian then lost her final 3 service games as the Russian-born Kazakh closed out the match in an hour and 32 minutes.
The 23-year old cracked 6 aces and she broke the Canadian 4 times as she won 8 of the last 10 points of the match, and the last 4 games.
“The second set, a few mistakes, a few good returns from Bianca, and I turned around and I was down,” Rybakina said. “But then I’m happy that I managed to win in two.
“I think, tactically, I was playing great, just at a few moments, maybe I rushed a bit on the serve. [I lost] my serve two times, but then I’m happy that the return games I played really well.”
22-year-old Andreescu won a total of 3 points on her second serve as she falls to 0-2 against Rybakina, who is a former finalist in Dubai.
Rybakina next takes on World No 26 Marie Bouzkova, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist last year who will play her second straight Grand Slam champion, after she beat 2020 Australian Open titlist Sofia Kenin in the first round on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Ostapenko, the 13th seed from Latvia, eliminated another Ukrainian, qualifier Katarina Zavatska, 6-1 6-4.
The 2017 French Open winner dedicated the victory to her mother, who is celebrating her birthday on Monday.
Ostapenko, who fired 8 aces and won 80 percent of her first-service points in the match, will now meet Czech teenager Linda Fruhvirtova in the 2nd-round.
“[Zavatska is] not an easy opponent, I think,” Ostapenko said. “I just, today, didn’t give her many chances to play.
“I was playing more aggressive and took time away from her, and made her play uncomfortable. I think that was the key.”
Additionally, Azarenka, the 15th seed from Belarus, took out Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-3 7-5, in 1 hour and 50 minutes in their 1st-round encounter.
Pavlyuchenkova, who was playing just her 4th event since returning from a 7-month injury break, came back from 5-3 down to 5-5 in the second set, but former World No 1 Azarenka took the final 2 games to prevail.
“Happy to win, for sure,” Azarenka said on court. “I felt a bit too many ups and downs today.
“I didn’t really feel that comfortable to lead and then, kind of, go back and try to restart. I know it’s part of the game, it’s part of tennis. But I just wanted to, kind of, close it out a bit earlier.
“Finding the way to win, it’s also very good, especially when you’re maybe not playing your best. But Nastia [Pavlyuchenkova] is a great player. I’m really happy to see her back.”
Later, the 33-year old snapped at the press about players being constantly questioned on retirement.
“I feel, like, when there are players who are older, like me, older in tennis, not older in life, I’m very young still, I see a lot of people keep asking about retirement. Once they retire, it’s like, We miss them,” Azarenka said. “It’s, like, let’s not waste this time before everybody retires to talk about retirement.
“People will let you guys know when it’s time, and that’s, kind of, it.
“But I see that coming up all the time, those comments. Oh, the age. You know, mind your business in a way. Like you really should mind your business,” Azarenka added. “When it’s ready, everybody’s going to announce it one way or the other, and there’s going to be a parade for some, maybe some not.
“Maybe some just say ‘bye’ and you never see them again. Whatever choice it is, just leave it up to people. That’s my opinion,” she concluded.
Azarenka will play Amanda Anisimova in round 2.
Elsewhere, Karolina Pliskova, a former runner-up in Dubai, eased past fellow Czech Marketa Vondrousova, 6-3 6-4.
Pliskova reunited with her twin sister for a pre-tournament training session on Sunday, marking new mother Kristyna’s first appearance at a WTA tournament in more than a year.
Left-hander Kristyna peaked at career-high ranking of No 35 in 2017, but has been off the tour for nearly 18 months, having last played in September of 2021, announcing her pregnancy that December, and then welcoming son Adam with her now-husband, Slovak soccer player David Hancko, last May.
Last summer at the Western & Southern Open, Karolina Pliskova shed some light on what tour life has been like without her twin around.
“I play much worse when she’s not around,” she joked. “I don’t really have, like, anybody who would replace her on the tour. Not that I would like need, but she was the best. I’m pushing for her to come back, so let’s see.”
There is no official word yet on Kristyna Pliskova’s possible comeback.
In other Monday results completing 1st-round play at the WTA 1000 in Dubai, Romania’s Ana Bogdan, the Czech Republic’s Karolina Muchova and Americans Lauren Davis and Shelby Rogers as well Belarus’ Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Yulia Putintseva from Kazakstan also all advanced into round 2.